Whitaker, Profeta key Newark job initiative

Bridge Builders CDC, a nonprofit, is helping to bring jobs to Newark.-(COURTESY BRIDGE BUILDERS)

If you ask the Rev. Gerald Whitaker — not to mention many other stakeholders around Newark — the city’s two biggest challenges are jobs and public safety.
And he feels one has plenty to do with the other.“I’m of the mind that the two are not mutually exclusive,” said Whitaker, pastor of Christ Church Newark. “I believe that a lot of people turn to different ways of trying to survive because there are very few other options for them.”

That’s largely why Whitaker founded Bridge Builders CDC, a nonprofit company aimed at tackling those issues by helping the city’s at-risk and poverty-stricken residents find work. And the company is now off and running, thanks in part to a prominent Newark-area business leader and the New Jersey Institute of Technology.

The organization was launched in December with the help of real estate investor Paul Profeta, whose Profeta Urban Investment Foundation provided a no-interest loan and other assistance to get it off the ground. But it was one of Profeta’s relationships — namely, with NJIT President Joel Bloom — that proved to be equally important, landing Bridge Builders a contract to clean two buildings at the prestigious Newark university.

The assignment since last month has provided a steady job for four area residents. For Bloom and NJIT, it’s recognition that “we’re a member of this community” and that the school can have a role in improving Newark.

“We’re getting to see some of the renaissance of the city now,” Bloom said. “This is an important program and Paul and the reverend have a lot of courage in advocating for this program. And we’re going to help them out.”

The assignment allows Bridge Builders to start with about 100,000 square feet at two of NJIT’s Enterprise Development Center buildings. It’s the fifth cleaning contract for the company, which also has done work at Rutgers University in Piscataway and construction sites around North Jersey, allowing it to employ 12 people overall.

It’s the kind of business that fits in with the Profeta Urban Investment Foundation’s mission and with Profeta’s vision for revitalizing Newark. Bridge Builders CDC is the 12th business helped by the foundation, which has been investing in minority-owned companies and entrepreneurs in the city since its launch in 2007.

Profeta, a Maplewood native whose business is based in West Orange, said the Brick City is a prime target for the business. If the company can help create jobs in the city’s vast network of office space and other institutions, “I think it would have a tremendous effect on Newark.”

“I think Newark is two steps away from being a Class A city again,” said Profeta, owner and president of Paul V. Profeta & Associates. “If you really boil it down, (with) safety and jobs, you’re done.”

Whitaker, a former business owner and longtime “IT guy” before entering the ministry in 2009, said Bridge Builders employees can include people who are undereducated, unemployed and those who may have a criminal background with misdemeanors. His goal is to do as the name suggests — “to build bridges between those who have resources and those who have no resources.”

And he’s now considering whether to create an apprenticeship program that would allow the best of its workers to “have an opportunity to work alongside the trades so they can progress toward getting certified” in a field such as electricity, plumbing or carpentry.

E-mail to: joshb@njbiz.com

Joshua Burd

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